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Album Of The Week

Weed & Beats: Giant Swan's Debut Album Reviewed
Robert Barry , November 7th, 2019 12:19

After a string of singles and EPs for Whities, Fuckpunk and Howling Owl Records, Bristol duo Giant Swan release their eponymous debut album and it's a brutal, intoxicating listen

You might recognise the contours of the city that Giant Swan’s debut places you in. Like the flickering avatar of some vector graphic third-person shooter, you find yourself there immediately, as if reborn. Suddenly immersed, head twitching back and forth in jagged movements, your body a bunch of polygons in uneasy alignment. It is always night here. The rain diffracts streaks of neon spraying everywhere upon roughly-rendered chrome and concrete surfaces. Everything is still under construction and it is already falling apart. People dressed in plastic. Steam rising from manhole covers. This is New York and Los Angeles and Berlin and Tokyo and Shanghai. This is the Sprawl and New Port City and Neo-Seoul and Alphaville.

Listening to Giant Swan’s eponymous album is a little bit like getting stabbed in that city. A little bit like getting stabbed while very, very high.

In a note at the end of the press release for the record, Giant Swan’s Harry Wright defines the band as “A statement that changes with each recipient, centred around tolerance, inclusion, self-sufficiency and TRUST. Oh and also weed and beats.” Forgive me if I choose to regard the first of these two sentences as a symptom of the second. As much as Giant Swan plunges me into sci-fi cityscapes, it also takes me back to the teenage bedrooms of old friends. Rave tapes or MBV on the stereo. Loud. A dense fog of weed smoke. A carpet of strewn detritus. Journeys into special places.

Weed and beats could almost be the subtitle of this record. An almost perfect description for an album thick with murk but pierced everywhere by transients. Everything here is distorted. Everything as resonant as it can possibly be. Sharpened, infinitely intensified and yet simultaneously blunted and blurred. There is just the right amount of detail. Lose yourself in the kind of precision engineering that only comes from deep, long-term periods of intoxication. Pass that over here, will you? Yeah. Nice. One more hit to take the edge off.

Harry Wright and Robin Stewart have been playing together in one form or another for over a decade now. “About 2009, I was working with a small art collective in Bristol,” Stewart recalled in a Quietus interview with Seb Wheeler, “and we were doing some projection work with [Bristol gallery] Arnolfini and I was tasked with doing some music for it, so I went to Harry and was like, ‘Can you record me doing some music?’ and he mixed it and it was great. We kept meeting up; there was never a plan.”

In Bristol four-piece The Naturals, a band that sound like they should have played at Slimelight or released stuff on Y Records, Stewart and Wright are the two guitarists backed by the bass and drums of Felix Drake and Ky Witney. As their name suggests, The Naturals are a significantly more worldly proposition. They recognisably inhabit the Bristol of The Pop Group and Portishead. Giant Swan was their downtime project. A couple of mates jamming – barely even jamming, just making noise, shoving all their fx up to the max. The sound of two people taking off, leaving the world behind.

About five years ago, Wright broke his arm. Forced to ditch his guitar for a time, their duo performances started to rely more and more heavily on loops and programmed drums. Live, everything is improvised. No two gigs the same. But the record is something else. The ten tracks assembled here sound distinctly like a thing crafted. Picture saucer-eyed sessions staring at a Logic timeline window for hours on end, moving tiny blocks of audio information about, tweaking EQs, adjusting filter envelopes. Mate, listen to this, what do you think of that kick drum? More top end, yeah? A little more kraank. Go on, skin up again, will you?

Imagine if the soundtrack to Transformers had been composed entirely of the twisting, scrunching metal sounds you hear when the giant robots change shape. Imagine if Amnesia Scanner weren’t so po-faced and self-important. Imagine if Front 242 had grown up with the kind of precise splicing and sound-sculpting tools that enabled contemporary EDM and electronica. You could call this kind of music ‘industrial’, but I don’t really believe Giant Swan have ever been anywhere near the kind of heavy industry that once inspired Shostakovich’s Second Symphony or the steel city tape music of Cabaret Voltaire. This is a kind of fantasy of industrialism, filtered through hazy memories of Max Headroom, ZTT Records, and the digital radiophonics of Sylvester McCoy-era Dr Who. Clunk, snap, chka-chka, ssssshhhh.

Giant Swan’s debut album is the migraine you didn’t know you needed. It is every sweaty, gurning night. Bright white lights in motion, glinting through dry ice off bare skin and exposed concrete. A gleaming, multi-faceted crystal made of muck and broken glass.